Noli Irritare Leones Yet another thoughtful calm commentary on religion, Catholics, politics and the world written by a non-Catholic.
Catholic Sensibility A "peace"ful website by a sensible Catholic liturgist usually avoiding the Catholic blog fratricide
Real Live Preacher OK, OK, He's not even Catholic--But he's a model for the unapologetic Christian who evangelizes with the lure of a Cristian life well lived and observed, not the hammer of screaming apologetics hellfire and brimstone.
Open Book Most unapologetic site by a true apologetic Catholic in the best sense of the word
Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost takes on Andrew Sullivan. Those who are familiar with Joe Carter know him to be a highly effective evangelical apologist. He is forthright, focused on scripture and is a proponent of Pope John Paul’s culture of life. He has a lot in common with orthodox Catholics and conservative politicians. He is witty, educated and tolerates a lively and contentious combox debate, seldom seen in the blogsphere. I disagree with him a lot and agree with him a lot, but all his posts either focus my own thoughts or are just hilarious.
To begin, he makes what I would have assumed to be an unremarkable observation. He is about to administer some harsh and strongly worded fraternal correction and therefore describes Andrew Sullivan as “a brother in Christ.”
Surprisingly, this creates an uproar in the comments. Joe correctly points out that all fellow Christians are brothers in Christ and that does not mean that he endorses Sullivan's personal life or theological beliefs. Commenters still object that Sullivan is unrepentant. Apparently so, but Joe points out he is not forecasting whether Sullivan will ultimately be among the saved ( a Protestant blog, remember?) Joe leaves that matter to Sullivan and God.
Joe is right. Fellow Christians are "our brotheres and sisters in Christ." That means that Jerry Falwell, Ronert Sugenis and Tim La Fave are my brothers in Christ. A painful thought, but Joe’s right. I often overlook that, and to all my brothers and sisters in Christ—I apologize for frequently forgetting.
Joe not only lives up to Christian virtues, but also demonstrates the broad application of the motto of his organization for many years, “Semper Fidelis.” It’s nice to see a Christian be “always faithful.”
Commonweal is a refreshing oasis in the insanity that is Catholic media. It is unapologetic in the best sense of the world. If you are sure about your faith and want to read articles confirming you in your certainty, there are a lot to choose from.
If you have a more intellectual bent, sometimes doubting and sometimes critical, Commonweal is for you.
Commonweal has recently started a group blog, dotCommonweal, with a series of heavyweight Catholic contributors. It probably won't get many votes in the annual St. Blog's awards. That's unfortunate.
Personalized license plates are ubiquitous here. I love deciphering particularly clever ones like NQIZITIV and IMOTIV8. Some give clues to occupations or sports like 10S AN1, ID DOK and LITIG8R. FST FNGR could be a court reporter, massage therapist or just a chronically angry driver. A minivan with soccer emblems has the license KIDBOX. Another with eight kids in the family had the descriptive 4XX 4XY. Perfect.
While driving to work on Ash Wednesday, I was planning my workday and bemoaning my lack of spirituality when I noticed the license of the car ahead of me: HEB 11V1. Completely out of context, I was puzzled at first but quickly figured out it was a Bible verse. A message from God, but my codebook was at the office.
When I got to the office, I looked it up and realized it was one of my favorite Bible verses.
Since bloggers choose what to write about, we are basically free to choose our own antagonists. Which means we're also free to choose not to have antagonists. So why do we choose to have antagonists?
There are several deep responses to his question in his comments box that I cannot match. My down to earth response is that it is good to exchange ideas and identify disagreements when it’s done in a “disputations” style. I can always learn a lot from different viewpoints. That’s why I read blogs whose point of view is different from my own. In that sense, “antagonism” can be a virtue.
However, “antagonism” can be carried to extremes by judgmentalism, name calling and unjustified righteousness.
I pick so many ways to judge. Often I am scandalized, stunned, shocked, and secretly gratified that I have found a way to be more pious, more Godly, and more Christian than my neighbors. In the non-religious realm I do the same, but the qualities that I am improving in myself are somewhat different. It is good that I am more refined, more intelligent, more cultivated, more honest, more loving, more whatever.”
I find that I use myself as the measure of all things and what a poor measure it is! But woe be unto you if I perceive you do not reach my exalted heights and standards.
Although he phrases this accusation in the first person he is one of the least likely Catholic bloggers to be guilty of this charge (except possibly me!).
I think this is because, like Disputations, he asks the question and considers the possibility that he may be wrong. It’s probably natural that we think what we do is important, and that those subject about what we are knowledgeable are “important” subjects.
There is a natural tendency though, that we extrapolate the above into thinking that we know it all about our own areas of expertise and our areas of expertise are the only worthwhile areas of study.
When applied to theology, this leads to disasters like this.
There are many, many thousands of biologists who have studied long and hard and are truly experts on the subject in question. Fortunately, some are Catholics who can set the apologist straight.
But harm is done. Even in the area of theology, apologetics scriptural exegesis, I think that most conclusions must be tentatitve. There is always the possibility that there is a mistake in the text, bad translation, if nothing else. Next, there is the possibility that the text is misunderstood. Nevertheless, a lot of people confuse their understanding of a Church teaching with the correct understanding or mistake it as the only correct understanding. Seldom is this justified.
Enbrethiliel has her top 100 favorite Catholic sayings of all time. It's quite a list. Some are classics, some new to me. My “serious” favorites are numbers # 1, 3,
6, 11 and 19. These seem to capture the essence of being Catholic.
The favorites to bring a smile on my face, and much needed laughter
to my soul, are #30, #40 (!!) and #87. Leave it to the Irish to get to the
Enbrethiliel put in 7 hours worth of work on this
project and I think it was truly worth it and quite obviously a labor of love.
I don’t think I can add to the list. Thank you.
The foremost problem in Jewish religion
is how to get Jews to take the Bible seriously without taking it literally. - Mordecai Kaplan
When faith is completely replaced by
creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is
ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom
rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of
authority rather than with the voice of compassion, its message becomes meaningless. - Abraham Joshua Heschel
A few years back, our pastor was meeting with adults and
teenagers. This was advertised to be “Fr. X unplugged.”
I was there, along with some parents and a swarm of teenagers, trying to get my teenage son to complete his confirmation classes.
According to the advertising, any teen could ask Fr. X anything about church,
religion, Catholicism, God, teenage years, humanity. Anything at all--and get credit for a pre Confirmation class and a slice of pizza, too.
Some teenager asked Fr. X this question, “As a member of the
clergy, is it difficult for you to lead a celibate life? Don’t you feel like
you’re missing out on something?”
I don’t remember much about the teenager who asked the
question but I remember the answer.
Fr. X reflected for a moment (and the room got very quiet).
He responded, “No, celibacy is not difficult to live out, but I do miss
something. Every Baptism and every First Communion I can see the physical
similarities between the children and their parents. I can see that right here
in this room as I look about and see you and your parents. Celibacy is not difficult; it’s knowing you will
never have children. That can be hard.”
A touching and poignant answer, and there were smiles about
the room. Suddenly, all eleven of my
bullshit detectors went off like a wolfpack of diving World War II submarines. Don’t ask me
how I knew, but I knew Fr. X had just lied his ass off.
I wonder what reactions would have been if his response had
been something like this:
“Hell, yes, celibacy is difficult. I struggle with it. This is Southern California and I go to the beach! You bet it's a struggle sometimes. But
all of us are called to chastity for our state, single married or religious,
and in some way it’s a struggle for all of us. How we struggle with sin and
temptation is important. I cannot do it without God’s grace and that’s true for
everybody else, too. Pray for me that I will have God’s grace and I’ll pray for
Fr. X has since been removed from the priesthood for "transgressing the boundaries of a youth," so my B.S.
detectors were right.
Six months later, his replacement, Fr. Y, was delivering a homily about “prisoners” in the scriptural readings and matter-of-factly described
the 60 days in jail he had served for being drunk in public (yet again) in violation of his probation, and
how we are all in prisons of our own making. I thought that was a pretty good point but, judging from the crowd reaction, most people apparently found the image of a handcuffed bleary-eyed vomity stinking pastor just too vivid. The after Mass coffee and donut
discussions were entertaining. Perhaps, a little too much "truth?"
In these times of the clergy sex abuse scandal, the question
comes up: How much do we/should we want to know about the personal failure of
our priests? I am a strong proponent of a zero tolerance policy for clergy sex
abuse, yet, if there had been a history of candid disclosures of clerical celibacy
failures, I wouldn’t be. It was/is the routine concealment that makes me favor the policy now.
A couple of really great posts at Disputations and Internet
Monk collided in my brain. I have
pieced together the wreckage to form some insights on how people relate to
Church and to God. I am really stepping
out on a limb because I am going to disagree substantially with
Disputations, a very risky enterprise. He describes an order
given to his ROTC father to shine a ship’s bell
and draws some lessons on the difference between obedience to Church doctrines
and agreement with Church doctrines—an important distinction. He makes the
point that if we don’t assume the right of the church to command obedience then
mere agreement allows us to pick and choose those church doctrines we agree
with and will consent to follow. I hope I summarized this right—if not, I
I’m critical of the approach
because, shockingly for Disputations, it’s set up as an “either-or” proposition
where I definitely see this as a “both-and.” I don’t dispute obedience as a
necessary virtue but I believe that a large part of obedience follows and
requires “agreement” and exploring agreement is necessarily part of a good faith attempt to follow the Church's orders even when not doubting the Church's overall authority.
His bell order analogy is so
useful, I’d like to expand it to highlight my own points. Thousands of cadets
in the seagoing military services have been given this very same order. For those of you
who have not been to sea, this ranks as a singularly stupid order. Ship’s
bells, made of brass, corrode quickly in sea and salt air. A shined bell will revert to its former
condition within hours or days. The
corrosion is surface corrosion only, affecting only the bell’s appearance-- it
does not affect the operation of the bell. It takes decades of non-polishing before
the bell is even slightly affected. Bells are typically shined only for visits
by dignitaries and admirals.
I was once also a cadet and was given,
if possible, an even more stupid order. I was ordered to shine the brass rudder
of the ship’s small boat stored on deck. The visiting admiral would have to
walk pass the small boat and “everything” in his field of view was to be "shiny." The brass rudder was rectangular, about 18 inches by 2 feet. It is subject to even more
harsh conditions than the bell. It is actually frequently immersed in salt
water whenever the small boat is used. I had several hours of mind-numbing
grueling labor ahead of me. To entertain myself in this 1970’s project, I
decided to begin the project by “shining” a large “peace symbol” into the
rudder. I had finished the peace symbol, but not the rest of the rudder when a
passing officer noticed my handiwork. Words like ‘berserk” and “apoplectic” are
inadequate to describe the officer’s reaction. He did immediately order a work
party of 7 more cadets to polish the entire rudder to obliterate the peace sign.
Hours later, we were mostly successful, but the peace sign was still slightly
more shiny than the rest of the rudder and was faintly visible until the rudder
retuned to its natural corroded state a few days later. As a postscript, these
seven cadets really need lessons in forgiveness and “letting go” because they
still bitterly remind me of this incident 30 years later.
This is a
lead-in to the observation that there are many kinds of military orders and the
Church’s orders are no different. How we respond is not as black and white as
it might first appear. Some orders are very direct. In fact, the military has
established step-by-step standard procedures for routine yet dangerous
operations like ammunition handling, fueling operations, live firing exercises
and similar events. This is what is
meant in the military when something is done “by the numbers.” The point of
such a “by the numbers” order is to reduce independent thought, establish
conformity in thought and action, and to make sure some idiot doesn’t exercise
creativity in stacking ammunition in, for example, a peace symbol shape. The church gives us
similar “by the numbers orders.“ Conformity and uniformity of action are often virtues. I agree with Disputations on how we should respond to these orders.
another type of military order that is at the exact opposite end of the
spectrum. Amazingly, in light of the rudder
incident (and others) I had a successful military career. Orders at the other
end of the spectrum are as vague as you can imagine, yet no less
enforceable. This type of order is
instantly recognized by fans of Star
Trek (which itself adopted naval terminology). Some crisis aboard the Starship Enterprise would erupt, usually in the
engine room, as the failing dilithium crystals needed repair and change out in the
middle of a battle with Klingons. Repairs would have to be done in a hurry, in
combat and while operating at full maneuvering speed dodging photon torpedoes.
Scotty would explain the whole situation, the logistical nightmares, lack of
time, manpower and materials necessary to do the job right and await the orders from Captain Kirk. Kirk would
respond, “Make it so.” I received many such orders in my career. These
essentially amount to “accomplish the mission, with inadequate resources, don’t
bother me with the details and do it any way you want as long as it works. I am relying on your trained initiative and leaderhship to do the job right.”
These orders are given when conditions are uncertain and unpredictable and you
want the person receiving the orders to exercise maximum flexibility,
creativity and freedom of action. I
believe the Church often gives us these types of orders as well. Obedience alone
will doom the enterprise. Full agreement in the overall mission and goals and
full knowledge of the big picture is needed. A lot of advance time and effort
is need to ensure that the person executing the orders is well trained,
understands the orders and understands the organization’s goals and missions
and has the creativity, passion and intelligence to perform in ways that cannot
be predicted in advance. There are several paths to success in this scenario.
Here is such an order: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Make it so. No details will follow.
recognize some orders are garbled in transmission. This happens for two reasons. The order is improperly framed, or
improperly understood. Here’s an
example of an order improperly framed. My 10 year old son need a physical exam
to go on a scout camp. This was his first non-pediatric physical exam, and certain
indignities (turn and cough) were suffered for the first time. He finally was
given a plastic cup, and directed to go to the bathroom and urinate in it, then place the snap-on lid on the cup and return it to the nurse. He had a
puzzled look on his face. He could not imagine any reason why responsible
medical professionals would direct him to perform such a task. Was this some
kind of marksmanship test? Hand-eye coordination? Hidden camera? He shrugged his shoulders,
and went into the bathroom. There, he filled the cup, as directed. Knowing that
there was no possible use for the stuff now in the cup, he poured it out into
the toilet, rinsed out the cup and snapped on the lid--also as directed. Exiting the bathroom, he
handed the empty rinsed cup with lid to the baffled nurse. The
order was not correctly given: important details were left out. It was followed precisely as directed, however.
Sometimes the Church does this, too. Ecclesia semper
reformanda est. CCC 769 makes it clear
that the Church is on its way to perfection. That means some of its orders may
have been incomplete or expressed poorly. Here is my strongest disagreement with Disputations. I think it is not a
violation of my duty to obedience to consider the possibility that the
particular Church order is incomplete, perhaps mistaken or improperly
expressed. Important point, however: If I conclude that is the case, that does
not mean I get to ignore the order. I may however, follow what I reasonably
believe to be the spirit of the order. How many parents have ever said to their
children, “Do what I meant, not what I said!” That’s the concept I’m talking
Another reason for confusion is
demonstrated by this excellent post
by Internet monk. He makes the excellent point that what we think we hear as
the order is not necessarily what the order was. Here are his words:
I know it is possible to upend a lot of our Christianity
under a ruthless psychological examination. The need for God to exist, the need
to be right about morality and the afterlife, and the need for our answers to
work are presuppositions with many of us. When we look at religion, and at
Christianity in particular, we see what we need to see and what we deeply
desire to see in order for life to work. The vehemence of much of what we say
to one another in the name of "right theology" and "right
doctrine" is bogus. Much of it is nothing more significant than the need
to assure ourselves we are right.
It would be good for me to step
back and remember that my voice isn't reporting the unbiased, pure teaching of
scripture. Whatever I say comes along with all my psychological needs and
baggage. Whatever is said to me by those who are sure they have the truth comes
to me with their presuppositions and unacknowledged motivations as well.
What we see in the faith, in the scriptures and in the
Gospel is highly personal. The kind of Christian we are is not automatically a
reflection of Jesus. Frequently it is far from Jesus, and very close to our own
In short, some orders are garbled in transmission, either on the sending end, or the receiving end, or both.
To summarize, “orders” of the Church, whether framed as
instruction, doctrine, scripture, homily or encyclical, come in a variety of
types. Some are simple and direct—by the numbers. Room for misunderstandings
and “discretion” is minimal. Others are intentionally broad ranging, and we
also have to factor in the possibilities that the order was not clear or that
we misunderstood the order ourselves.In such cases, we are expected to use our "trained initiative and leasdership" as the military called it. People in good faith may carry out these
Personally, I do have the most trouble with the broad
orders like “Love your neighbor.” How?
Why? Even when He’s mean? Sinful? What
about if he’s a drug addict or an illegal immigrant? I want specific instructions. By the Numbers!
I started this weblog because I was badly shaken by the
general level of discussion on the Catholic weblogs known generally as St.
Blogs. In my opinion only a handful actually demonstrate Christian
charity. Even the comments boxes of
these were often filled with vitriolic hated. Certainly an “inquirer” or
someone returning to the faith would be put off and would simply not want to be
part of a religion whose adherents so completely and obviously fail exhibit any
form of charity to anybody.
In my dating efforts a few years ago, I tagged along to
attend a few Sunday meetings for
Christian Singles sponsored by one of the local megachurches. It was pretty
well-organized. The Christian Singles meetings were open to all “self-declared”
Christians of any denomination and there was no pressure to join the host
megachurch. It was intended solely to
allow marriage minded Christian singles to meet potentially compatible members
of the opposite sex. We would meet and share with one another our thoughts on
various significant issues. Of course, religion was important to everybody, so
we all talked (a lot) about religion and its significance to each one of us. I
found out that there were a lot of Christian denominations. Apparently the largest of these was
“Recovering Catholics.” Oh, there were a few Methodists, Episcopalians,
Lutherans, Baptists, Evangelicals, otherwise unspecified general Protestants,
and even a few Catholics like me. We were all vastly outnumbered by those who
considered themselves “R.C.”
As each “recovering Catholic” told their background, a
familiar pattern emerged. Each one had
been treated badly by fellow Catholics, both lay and religious. Not just once, but often. They were frequently told, “If you don’t
like it, then leave.” They were
“thumped” repeatedly not with the Bible, but with the Magisterium. They were told they weren’t good Catholics
and they were going to Hell. They were preached at and condemned. Not one of them left the Church because of
women’s ordination, abortion, celibacy or the teaching on the Real
Presence. Some left because of claimed
marioloatry and some left because of inability to regularize a divorce and
remarriage situation but most left because of a lack of charity. Bad preaching, bad example, bad apologetics,
or just mean spirited, whatever you want to call it. Whatever it is, we have
failed millions of our fellow Catholics.
Nobody left the Church because of doctrinal issues. Almost
every single case could have been prevented. What do we do about this? I don’t
have all the answers. I do know that the most effective evangelization is the
way we live our lives and the way we treat others. If we live according to the Gospel, no matter what happens to
us--rich, poor, healthy or nont, fortunate or suffering from misfortunes--there
is a light of goodness and peace that shines through. So much so that other people want some of that. That light is
often missing on all those Catholic Blogs who emphasize "apologetics" over charity.
Now recently, in case you hadn’t heard, a new pope was
elected. Responses ranged from this
to this. (see bonus comment: “Let's grill some heretics too ... the
Grand Inquisitor is on charge. Pope Bad Cop the First.”) That'll fill the churches--the megachurches!
Now I have to say I sympathize with Bad
Catholic and thought her post was both funny and insightful. Her follow up posts were excellent and
uncharacteristically refreshing in the Catholic blog circles.
I mention this because I often point out particularly
egregious examples of unchristian commentary and behavior in St. Blog’s Parish.
The papal election brought out some of the worst, and I posted a misogynist example of
that below. I’m not shy about that. I collect “gems” of bad Catholic behavior
and post the most outrageous here. The megachurches don't need our reverse evangelization help.
However, I need to recognize good commentary when it
happens. Here is one from a blog that I
have criticized in the past.
This is a great discussion on the Pope. Just as there was never going to be a Pope
in favor or ordaining women, or in favor of abortion, there was also never
going to be a Pope who would say “War is good, we need more electric chairs or unbridled Capitalism is good.” In short, “conservative,” in Catholic
circles means something else than “conservative” in political circles. If
conservative means a return to the words of Jesus, then I’m a conservative.
I’d only add one thing to the excellent comment, which
should have been published at Busted Halo. You may
recall the broughaha over the last presidential election where many bloggers
simply said it was a mortal sin to vote for Kerry. Here’s what the new pope
actually said about voting for a pro-abortion candidate. First, he condemned
the candidate’s views on abortion in no uncertain terms. But, he was more careful in his analysis of a voter’s actions compared
to a politician’s actions.
Here’s what he said:
“A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to
present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a
candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion
and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour
of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons,
it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the
presence of proportionate reasons.”
There were a lot of proportionate reasons in the last
Presidential elections and it is telling that the future Pope didn’t even begin
to discuss them all. Instead, he relied on each of us to vote according to our own
consciences. He could distinguish between those who performed abortions, those who promoted them as part of a political program and those who vote for politicians. Not everything in the world is a slippery slope. Imagine that! A pope
treating Catholics as adults! God bless
the Pope! May he always do God’s will! And moer "unapologetic" posts like the above.